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Perspectives on Google's specs: The Drum's first impressions of Google Glass

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By Gillian West, Social media manager

June 24, 2013 | 6 min read

Google Glass: gimmick or game changer? The Drum’s Gillian West recently had the chance to try out the controversial eyewear ahead of its long-awaited release – here she reviews her experience of the device.

Walking into the offices of Somo in London I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d been sent a text at 11pm the night previously offering me a try of Google’s most anticipated and discussed project to date – Google Glass.Rumours on what Google Glass could be capable of have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous ever since information surfaced that the search giant was working on a pair of augmented reality goggles.Before being allowed to try it out for myself Google Glass had to be paired with an Android smartphone, which in a way is pretty telling of its capabilities. It’s not a standalone device; it’s dependent on an operating Android handset. Content, uploads, settings and connectivity are all made through a smartphone, meaning Google Glass is much more of a high-tech, high-finish, handsfree device and does not herald a new coming of communications.There was a slight delay in pairing the device with the adequate handset and TV screen via Bluetooth, but once paired it was my turn to get my hands on Google Glass. Visually it’s a smart piece of kit; it’s streamlined, polished, and relatively inoffensive in its design. Despite the name there isn’t actually any glass, the device is made up of a titanium band that runs slightly above the eye line, nose pads, and most importantly the processor, camera, and ‘screen’ – for lack of a better word – affixed to the right hand side of the band. Once on, it’s surprisingly light and relatively unobtrusive, unlike other prototypes that can be heavy and cumbersome. The other thing that’s surprising is that, once on, it doesn’t immediately transport you into a Minority Report-esque world – your real world vision continues unaffected and you aren’t automatically withdrawn to live an augmented life. In terms of battery life it should last as long as a smartphone, though if used continuously will last around half a day, and just like a smartphone is charged via a micro-USB. Once switched on, connected, and wearing the device, Google Glass is brought out of sleep mode by completing a rather self-conscious nodding manoeuvre which is not at all natural and is likely to alarm those around you if done suddenly. I’ve a feeling that no matter how discreetly you try to nod your head, you’re still going to look a little strange, not least because the next step then involves talking out loud. Instead of removing me from my surroundings Google Glass simply projects what looks like a small screen into the top right hand corner of your vision; a bit like a high-tech postage stamp. The interface looks similar to that of Google Now and from the main screen saying the phrase ‘OK Glass’ aloud prompts the device to start working. At present there’s no app store for the device, though this will come in time once developers get their hands on it.Currently on the device are ‘Google Now cards’ – screens of information which relate to recent searches and pre-programmed options such as Twitter, Facebook and The New York Times. To travel through these cards you have to use the track pad affixed to the right hand side of the device and scroll through one by one. In all honesty it’s a bit laborious and unintuitive having to go through the entire history of the device to get to what you are looking for. A simple fix here would be a favourites menu allowing you to shortcut to your favourite programmes – something I’m fairly certain will be added in due course.One interesting feature of Google Glass is the small ‘bone-vibrating speaker’ that sits over your right ear. Due to its proximity to your ear and sound vibrations, the sound is clearest to the user and, depending on the room conditions, quieter or inaudible to those around you. This feature allows the device to read articles from The New York Times directly to you, read back Google searches and provide directions when using Google maps. However, the voice command feature – despite looking amazing in promos – is no better than its ever frustrating Apple counterpart Siri. I can’t help but wonder if this is due to my accent or the fact I felt more than a little self-conscious asking a pair of glasses for directions and how tall the Empire State Building was.The camera has to be the most controversial and maligned aspect of Google Glass, with numerous legal and privacy concerns arising ever since it became a definitive product. Capable of capturing HD pictures and video, you can direct Glass to ‘take a picture’ or, if already in camera mode, tap on the right-hand side track pad. From watching the device in use when pictures are being taken, the screen emits a glow bright enough to clue you in to the fact that your picture is being taken.From my initial 20 minutes looking through the world of Google Glass I could see the potential for sure, but it reminded me of the original iPhone, which back in2007 at its launch wasn’t capable of sending MMS messages and ran solely through GPRS and the Edge data networks rather than on 3G. However, in less than six years Apple has managed to tweak that device so much that millions of us the world over are completely dependent on it.As Google Glass isn’t a standalone device I can’t see queues round the block like there have been for other releases. In its current form it isn’t the most fashionable device, though there is talk of partnerships with Ray-Ban and other glasses manufacturers, and the actual tech part of Google Glass can be detached by those savvy enough who want to create their own customised piece of kit.In my view what Google Glass could become is the ultimate second screen in the home. Unlike smartphones and tablets which consume your attention in a second screen setting, it could be used to tweet, send emails and browse web pages whilst watching television. Ultimately, it is an impressive piece of kit but not a finished product. In time though it could be a game changer. Will it have the same impact as the iPhone and iPad launches, and will it irrevocably change the market like those two products? Probably not. But what is does mark is a shift from handheld tech to wearable tech and I’m certain there’s a place in the future for Google Glass and technology like it.
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